The baton is passed: Didier Drogba and Lacina Traoré

by Ciaran Kelly

FBL-AFR-2013-CIV-TUN-MATCH15There is no understating just what Didier Drogba represents in Côte D’Ivoire.

More so than any other footballer in the world, Drogba has inspired more than just a mere generation: standing as, arguably, Africa’s most effective footballer of all-time.

Remarkably that is without even mentioning the fact that Drogba has established himself as one of football’s most selfless philanthropists with his incredible healthcare donations, United Nations promoting and anti-war work campaigning in Côte d’Ivoire,

Sure, there will be those who will argue that this is the least a £196,000 per week footballer could do for his homeland but rebel conflict in Côte D’Ivoire has always been on Drogba’s mind – regardless of continually being thousands of miles away from his country.

After all, as a result of his off the field drive in 2007, Drogba was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations Development Programme and pushed for a landmark qualifier for the African Nations Cup to be played in Bouake, the rebel’s stronghold.

This was just a year after Drogba led his team-mates in dropping to their knees in the dressing-room – not in celebration, but in pleading to warring factions to talk – in an interview on live television after Les Éléphants defeated Sudan 1-3 to qualify for their first World Cup, on 8 October, 2005.

Ultimately, Drogba proved that while politics were dividing a nation back home, football could unite it and in tandem with support from Chelsea – who have a section of their museum dedicated to the Didier Drogba Foundation to this day – strived to improve his hometown’s infrastructure.

This is why Drogba donated his £3 million fee from a Pepsi endorsement for the building of a hospital in Abidjan in 2009 and there is no doubt Drogba’s once-lucrative (before pay delays and empty promises) deal at Shanghai Shenhua also had selfless reasons at heart.

So, while Drogba has always divided opinion on the field with his, undeniably, effective play-acting, the world is united off it in recognising how the 34 year old has used to his standing and influence for positive reasons.

For Côte D’Ivoire, though, one blemish remains: Drogba has never won the African Nations Cup in his eleven years as an international footballer.

Part of a wider hoodoo, where Les Éléphants have only won one African Nations Cup in the nineteen tournaments they qualified for in 48 years, Drogba has never been able to drag Côte D’Ivoire over the line.

It has remained, following Chelsea’s Champions League win in 2012, the one blot on his stellar career achievements.

In effect, it has never fallen into place for Drogba and Côte D’Ivoire’s golden generation in the African Nations Cup arena: reflecting just how intense the pressure of representing 21 million people is for the near-constant tournament favourites in the past four tournaments in particular.

With Drogba uncharacteristically missing Côte D’Ivoire’s opening penalty of the 2006 final defeat against Egypt, Les Éléphants have suffered from everything from shootout heartache (2006, 2012) to arrogance (2008) and poor team chemistry (2010).

SabriThe immensely-driven Sabri Lamouchi, though, will not tolerate excuses and has given Les Éléphants much-needed backbone in some of their performances under him in the past nine months, including the riot-filled 0-2 away play-off victory over Senegal on 13 October, 2012.

The intensity of the team’s celebration of Gervinho’s 88’ winner against Togo in Les Éléphants’ first group match of the African Nations Cup, on 23 January, was perfect evidence of Lamouchi’s tutelage with Côte D’Ivoire not letting their earlier frustrations and nerves get the better of them.

Lamouchi, though, is not one for sentimentality and Drogba’s performance in the match typified Côte D’Ivoire lethargy.

Struggling with the tight marshalling of Vincent Bossou and uncharacteristically blazing a well-positioned free-kick on 48’, Drogba was replaced by Wilfried Bony on 73’.

The captain’s influence seemed to be fading, with his eight goals in eleven games for Shanghai Shenhua merely concealing that fact at a less competitive level.

As a result, all eyes were on Lamouchi ahead of the game against Tunisia on 26 January and whether the inform Bony would start, but Lamouchi instead plumped for Lacina Traoré.

Often inhibited by Drogba’s firm grasp of the number nine shirt, the 22 year old only emerged as a feasible alternative during Lamouchi’s reign – despite an impressive goalscoring record in previous years for the under-21s and under-23s.

Still, the gangly 6ft 8in striker is far from a clumsy rookie – armed with a deft touch and immense link-up play – and his performances and goalscoring (13 in 27) for Anzhi Makhachkala in 2012/2013 suggest he will go on to be one of the world’s most imposing strikers at the highest level.

For Côte D’Ivoire, too, Traoré has delivered – netting two goals in three games – and there is no underestimating just how important, psychologically, his fantastic performance and influence was in Les Éléphants’ 4-2 friendly victory over Egypt on 14 January, 2013.

It proved that the Drogba template could be continued, even revived, with Traoré a menace throughout, holding the ball up expertly and showcasing a near-telepathic understanding with Max Gradel and Gervinho.

Traoré coming off for Drogba late in the second-half of that game was a telling image for the future.

The scenario was again repeated, against Tunisia, with Traoré performing impressively alongside Salomon Kalou and Gervinho – including setting-up Gervinho for the only goal of the game, with a majestic back heel on 26’.

Again, Traoré played the role of target man effortlessly and was something of a free-roaming alternative to Drogba: not being afraid to drive at goal on occasion, running into the channels and playing a couple of dangerous passes behind the Tunisian defence.

Once more, Traoré departed to applause and vuvuzela adulation, with Drogba coming on for him on 68’.

It looks as if it is the end of an era in African football, with it seeming unlikely Drogba will have the same on the field influence on the pitch for the Côte D’Ivoire.

Perhaps, this influenced Drogba in his move back to relative competitive European football with Galatasaray.

However, regardless, with Drogba reduced to giving out Terry-like tactical instructions from the bench, it is clear that the on the field baton for Les Éléphants has now passed to Lacina Traoré.

Author Info

Ciaran Kelly

Ciaran Kelly

Sports writer and author of José Mourinho: The Rise of the Translator, featuring exclusive interviews with key figures not synonymous with the traditional Mourinho narrative and Johan Cruyff: The Total Voetballer, an ebook which peaked in the Top 40 of Amazon's top 100 Sports Books' chart. I have also written for Britain best selling football magazine, FourFourTwo and other British publications. I am a fully qualified reporter with an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism and a Masters degree in Sports Journalism from St. Mary's University, London.

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1 Response

  1. Robert Clark says:

    Who would you say has more potential Traore or Bony? for a while it seemed Doumbia would take the mantle as the main striker for les elephants; however he has seemed to tail off recently leaving the door open for these two great prospects

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